For Ava Pearson — who is a member of Troupe 6547 at Lincoln Southwest High School in Lincoln, Nebraska — her love for theatre was fostered right at home. Ava’s father, Steven Pearson, passed down his passion for theatre and has encouraged Ava to pursue her interest in it. He performed in high school in a musical. Then in college, he continued to nurture his talents and has since performed in 50+ community productions. His latest role includes Joseph Pulitzer in a local production of Newsies. Not surprisingly, theatre was always present in Ava’s childhood. Many of their family vacations have included theatrical performances.

Ava says, “I have learned a lot of singing skills from my dad, and we nerd out together over new shows that we see.  I was in a community theatre production of Elf Jr., but when I got to high school, I decided to get involved on the light crew for Kinky Boots.” (Read more about her participation in the show at the 2022 International Thespian Festival (ITF) below!)”

Theatre Family at ITF

Besides seeing shows and leading by example by doing community theatre, Steven has also nurtured his theatre family through his employer. He’s worked for the Lied Center for Performing Arts for several years as event services manager. He oversees hospitality and various accommodations for visiting artists, as well as the myriad front-of-house logistics. For 10 years, he also coordinated logistics for the annual ITF, which was held at the Lied Center.

“Feeling the positive energy of ITF attendees and seeing what a great experience they had, was a very rewarding experience,” he says.

Now, he sees being involved with ITF as a great opportunity for Ava. He adds, “When we found out that Lincoln Southwest High School was doing Kinky Boots and having it evaluated for inclusion at ITF, I encouraged Ava to participate because I knew she would have an amazing time.”

Paul Canaan in costume as one of the Angels in Kinky Boots on Broadway

Paul Canaan in costume as one of the angels in Broadway production of “Kinky Boots.” Photo by Matthew Murphy

Each year, a handful of International Thespian Society Troupes are selected to perform a production from the preceding school year on the main stage. Troupe 6547, of which Ava is a member, performed Kinky Boots at ITF 2022. Ava was on light crew.

She says, “I got to do more things during the show for ITF than I did for the original production. The cast and crew are all wonderful people, and I always have a fun time rehearsing.”

The show is directed by Bob Henrichs. The beloved musical follows the true story of a young man who has inherited his father’s shoe factory. With the fateful introduction to a fabulous entertainer named Lola who’s in need of some stilettos, Charlie just might be able to save his father’s legacy and the family business.

Gen-Z Member of the Theatre Family Branches Out

In 2020, Ava and her family visited New York and attended a production of Beetlejuice the Musical on Broadway. It was just before the start of COVID-19, and she says she felt fortunate to have been able to see it when they did: “I already loved the music, but seeing the show live made me love it even more.”

Like theatres across the country, Beetlejuice the Musical shut down temporarily in response to health and safety measures. But when they returned to performances, the musical’s producers invited fans to be part of the exciting moment. They announced a contest for fans to submit original artwork about the show with the chance to be included in a mural at the Marquis Theatre. Ava submitted an original work that features the musical’s character Lydia Deetz.

“My ultimate career goal is to be an animator or an illustrator, so I entered the contest,” Ava explains. “One day at school, I got an email from Beetlejuice the Musical saying that my art had been selected to be in a mural outside the theatre. The mural was being installed that very day.”

Ava’s work is accompanied by about 500 other fan submissions. To celebrate her art being included, she traveled to New York with her family to see it in person.

Ava Pearson art in Beetlejuic mural NYC

Ava Pearson seeing her art as part of the Beetlejuice mural in NYC.

“I can’t put into words how exciting it was to see my art as part of this mural,” says Ava. “My heart was bursting out of my chest. It was a total fangirl moment. Seeing my art outside of a Broadway theatre where one of my favorite musicals is playing was indescribable. This is by far the largest audience that any of my art pieces has ever had, so I feel like this was a big stepping-stone for me as an artist.”

closeup of ava pearson's art in Beetlejuice muralWhen you’re part of a theatre family like Ava and Steven are, there are so many creative opportunities to follow! You can learn more about becoming a thespian in the International Thespian Society here

Natalie Clare is a Cincinnati-based writer who composes original content for brands, organizations, and publications. She writes fiction and nonfiction, and she directs and produces works of film. Visit her at


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